Belfast Telegraph

Johann Muller ready for Ulster's Montepellier battle

By Niall Crozier

Ulster captain Johann Muller was sore all over following his side's 22-16 victory against Leicester Tigers in Friday night's Heineken Cup opener at Ravenhill.

"My body is feeling really, really good," he said in a clear attempt to allay fears that he might not be ready for the massive test which awaits his side on Saturday afternoon in the far south of France.

"I'm feeling fantastic," he reiterated.

"I did a little bit of damage to my neck at the weekend but it has settled quite nicely and I should be 100% ready to go on Saturday."

He expects to be even more uncomfortable at the end of the showdown with Top 14 leaders Montepellier at their Stade Yves Du Manoir home.

That is hardly surprising; this French side's pack is one of the biggest in world rugby. As opponents go, there are few more daunting in purely physical terms. They are scrum and line-out specialists.

"They pride themselves on their set-piece and obviously that is something they work on really, really hard," the Ulster captain said.

"If you look at Montpellier's pack of forwards last weekend (when they beat Benetton Treviso 27-22 in Italy), physically that's probably the biggest you'll ever face in any type of game.

"They're 900-and-something kilograms and they've got massive, massive individuals in their side and obviously it makes a bit of a difference if you have that kind of weight in behind you from a scrum and a line-out point of view," said the Ulster lock, himself no lightweight at 6ft 7in and 17st 8lb (112kg).

"But in saying that, we also are a team who pride ourselves on our first-phase. I think as a pack we have really come on over the last four or five years. I think we can compete with anybody, in any league, at this stage so I think it's going to be a great battle over there," he forecast.

"This is like a Test match. This will be a pinnacle of our forwards' play. It's at Montpellier's home ground, with their fans, so it doesn't get any tougher than this.

"So that's how we see this one – our Test match. And we know that if we don't do our thing then there is no chance that we will get away with a victory."

The fact that Montpellier are playing on their own pitch is hugely important to them, Ulster's skipper pointed out.

"In French rugby it has always been the case that they are renowned for not travelling really well, but for having a huge amount of pride when it comes to defending their home stadium," he said.

"If you look at the Top 14 there are some unbelievable sides that lose away from home every other week just because a home victory is a non-negotiable.

"So we're not expecting anything different from Montpellier; they will be coming out with one mindset and that is to get a victory. It is up to us to upset that."

But the difficulty of the task notwithstanding, Ulster's approach will be to go to the well-nigh invincible Stade Yves Du Manoir and leave with a win. Muller insisted there is no question of them aiming for a losing bonus.

"One thing we said at the beginning of the season was that we would only look at the next game, that there would be no looking to the future and trying to work out what we might need to achieve something in three months' time or six months' time," he said.

"For us, this season is only about the next seven days. So there is no plan for what we need, from a numbers point of view, to get out of our pool or whatever. The only thing we'll be concentrating on is going to Montpellier and trying to get a win.

"It's not about trying to get bonus points or trying to get penalties just to stay within seven (points). We're going to go down there and play as well as we can.

"Rugby is a very, very funny game; anything can happen on any given day so we're excited and we're looking forward to the challenge."

* In our preview of the Leicester Tigers game last Friday we stated that Roger Wilson formerly played for the Tigers. In fact, Wilson is an ex-player with Northampton Saints. We regret the error.

Belfast Telegraph


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